by Sasha Uzunov
Macedonia’s Opposition leader from the SDSM Party, Mr Zoran Zaev, gave a very rare interview for influential Australian-Macedonian radio program, 3ZZZ, hosted by Dr Ico Najdovski-Perin, and in which he gave a public undertaking not to change Macedonia’s name over Greek pressure. (more about Dr Najdovski-Perin here at this link.)
It remains to be seen if Mr Zaev will keep his commitment not to change the name, should he become Prime Minister after 5 June 2016, the date of the elections. Those elections were initially scheduled for 24 April as part of the EU Przino Agreement, which saw Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski resign because of the on-going political crisis and handing over to a caretaker government led by his VMRO-DPMNE party. However, that the date was pushed back to June, after the EU claimed it was not happy with a number of conditions such as a scrutiny of the electoral rolls, media freedoms and so on.
Be that as it may, Mr Zaev should have come on earlier on 3ZZZ radio, an independent multicutlural broadcaster with enormous reach in Australia, talking directly to the Australian-Macedonian diaspora. It remains puzzling why Mr Zaev has kept the diaspora, which ironically lives in the West, at arms length even though he claims to be pro-West?
It’s a very obvious question and in fact begs to be asked, why Mr Zaev’s media handlers or advisors have been keeping him from re-engaging directly with the Australian Macedonian diaspora which lives in the political West; rather than just giving soundbites used by the Australian-Macedonian media?
Macedonia's first President since independence in 1991, Kiro Gligorov of SDSM (1991-99) cleverly brought the diaspora under his wing as he battled to keep Macedonia alive and recognised. He had diaspora Macedonian men and women of the calibre of Canadian John Bitove & American businessman Vuko Tashkovich-whose son Gligor, became a minister in the Gruevski government for a short period of time and brought in huge investments in the country- and American-Macedonian woman Ms Ljubica Ackovska appointed as US Ambassador in the mid 1990s.
A father and son - Vuko and Gligor Tashkovich can serve two opposing parties in Macedonia -SDSM and VMRO-DPMNE - because they put the national interest first, is what many in the Australian diaspora are saying.
Many Australian-Macedonians tend to vote for the Australian Labor Party (ALP) which is the equivalent of SDSM but have largely favoured the nominally “nationalist” VMRO-DPMNE in Macedonia, which has run the country under Prime Minister Mr Nikola Gruevski for a decade, and with the PM recently forced to resign over a year long political crisis brought on by Mr Zaev releasing secretly recorded conversations involving the Gruevski government and alleged wrongdoing and massive corruption.
Part of that problem with SDSM’s media image in Australia is a perception of abandoning the diaspora for what is perceived as Belgrade cafe culturalists masquerading as pro West. This image or perception has been effectively used by VMRO-DPMNE supporters in Australia.
Hopefully Mr Zaev will re-examine that perception and draw the diaspora towards him.
No Macedonian from Australia has ever committed an act of terrorism on Macedonian soil. But "citizens" - predominately ethnic Albanians - from the Republic of Macedonia are fighting in Syria and Iraq. Pre-1991, Macedonian officials from SRM / SFR Yugoslavia’s secret police, UDBa (SDB), threatened Macedonians in Australia with violence or death. Mr Ali Ahmeti, the ethnic Albanian leader who started the war in Macedonia in 2001, came from the Swiss-Albanian diaspora.
So it remains puzzling why this aloofness towards the Macedonian diaspora now & not just from Mr Zaev but from the whole political and cultural class in Macedonia?
Mr Zaev needs to lessen the influence of the City of Skopje / Belgrade Cafe cultural faction which has attached itself to SDSM, such as pundits Borjan Jovanovski and Branko Geroski, who claim to be pro West, and from time to time just say enough on “international television” to cover their tracks and criticise Belgrade but without really meaning it - they cleverly sit on two chairs…
Other perceptions include that SDSM and the ruling VMRO-DPMNE have deliberately ignored the plight of ethnic Macedonians in neighbouring Greece, Bulgaria and Albania. Some say that the ethnic Macedonians in Albania act as a healthy and natural barrier to a perceived Greater Albania in Western Macedonia, and Macedonia is being held politically hostage by Ali Ahmeti and his demands.
Moreover, there is a feeling that Serbia still wields “too much cultural hegemony” in Macedonia with the enomous power of ultra-nationalist tabloids from Belgrade. Likwise, that the European Union and the US have “bullied Macedonia” and given the Albanian nationalist bloc cart blanche; that Bulgarian nationalists have been allowed to set up shop in Macedonia unhindered. And not forgetting the strong belief in the influence of George Soros and is foundation.
Whatever the basis may be for these perceptions, they need to be discussed, debated, examined and not allowed to just circulate or linger or drift in the public square.
What is a given, or a fact is corruption in Macedonia is widespread and didn’t start in 1991.
WESTERN INACTION? DRIFT?
DPC is a pro West think tank and it's interesting it has criticised certain aspects of the West's behaviour in the BALKANS. Kurt Bassuener wrote in 2015 in a DPC paper - see link here :
"Unfortunately, claims of agitation for Greater Albania are not completely fanciful; there are vocal adherents of such a goal, particularly in Kosovo. A public rally at a Prishtina sports hall for the eight Kosovars killed in the Kumanovo operation, included members of Prime Minister Isa Mustafaj’s Democratic Alliance of Kosova and opposition party Vetovendosje. The Kosovo Defense Ministry refused requests to host the event officially. Xhavit Jashari, Head of the Association of Veterans’ Families, said of the men “They are heroes of Kosovo. They fought for the freedom of the occupied lands, and for their unification in one country, Albania.“
"This direct endorsement by major political figures of ethnic separatism in Macedonia is a dangerous and destabilizing escalation of interethnic and interstate tension, and is generating ample fodder for regime-oriented press in Skopje, Belgrade, Banja Luka, Moscow, and beyond.
"The lack of a clear and credible Western security guarantee for Macedonian territorial integrity and sovereignty – even identity – has left ample room for nationalists throughout the region to entertain grand designs, as well as giving Moscow inroads in a country in which it had few.”
In 1994, Saso Ordanoski, a pro SDSM journalist and former head of Macedonian State broadcaster (MRT), told the British press that the Albanian political bloc in Macedonia:
“Throughout the formation of Macedonia, they have boycotted all political processes that would link them to it," said Saso Ordanoski, Skopje's leading commentator. "It is quite clear that their eventual aim is to declare their own federal republic and secede within [from] Macedonia.”
source: The Canberra Times (ACT) Friday 11 March 1994 quoting The Guardian newspaper. Reporter Helena Smith. link.
But he has done a 360 degree turn since then, why? Even Bassuener in 2015 concurs that a Greater Albania remains a genuine threat to Macedonia’s very existence.
There are also fears that Macedonia will be forced to change its name, because for the EU it’s the “path of least resistance” to take in order to appease an obstinate Greece, which has blocked Macedonia’s membership in the EU and NATO. see link
Mr Zaev is not part of the traditional City of Skopje cultural elite which dominates Macedonia and Macedonian culture. He is an outsider from Strumica and was arrogantly ridiculed by one of his own supporters, journalist Olivera Trajkovska, for being from outside Skopje. Therefore, Mr Zaev should at least try to feel some empathy for Macedonians who are outside the capital city and who also are treated in an arrogant manner by the established elite.
From a strategic and economic view, that is, and Mr Zaev has confirmed this, the Macedonian diaspora brings in a Billion euros annually, which are badly needed in Macedonia. This money comes in without any strings attached to it - via tourism, pensions, money being sent to family members, investments etc.
FUNCTIONING JUDICIAL SYSTEM?
Mr Zaev will find that many Australian-Macedonians have been the victim of protracted civil legal cases dealing with property inheritance of a family home or farm in Macedonia - where Macedonia's judicial system for the past 25 years has deliberately dragged out cases with appeals and counter appeals, so that lawyers and judges can keep the gravy train (fees, kickbacks, bribes etc) from rolling on.
I personally know of one Macedonian man from Melbourne who has spent over $400,000 and maybe more over a decade and half in legal fees in Macedonia. He has been physically attacked by the opposing side outside court, trying to intimidate him into giving up his claim, whilst the authorites have done nothing. These are the people that Mr Zaev needs to reach out in the diaspora - people who for 25 years have been on the receiving end of an atrocious legal system and mistreatment by authorities, regarldess of their political affiliation.
PUBLIC PERCEPTIONS II?
Messrs Jovanovski and Geroski’s personal hobby of a curious and contradictory mish-mash of internationalism, old time Yugoslavist nostalgia, Belgrade cafe culture as well as saying “vise, bolje, u” - and naively eulogising opportunist politician Zoran Djindjic etc. doesn’t bring in a Billion euros and in fact alienates support for SDSM in Australia !
THE ZAEV INTERVIEW:
What is encouraging is Mr Zaev didn't use the patronising “elite” words such as"vise, bolje, u" - a small positive step - during the interview.
Some tough questions were posed by host by Dr Najdovski-Perin (pictured left): about the influence of DUI, Ali Ahmeti, no census of the population, EU interference, Przino Agreements, de-facto Federalisation, ignoring ethnic Macedonians in Albania, Greece, Bulgaria etc. Mr Zaev appeared evasive at times.
- Mr Zaev gave an undertaking not to change Macedonia's name.
- Mr Zaev acknowledged that the diaspora contributes over 1 billion euros to the Macedonian economy annually, which is badly needed.